Boston, MA – A history that spans 95 seasons, six Stanley Cups, eleven retired numbers, and 51 Hall of Famers is nothing to sneeze at. The Boston Bruins are the oldest American franchise in the NHL and an Original Six member. The organization is somewhat accustomed to success, not always championships but certainly making the postseason and giving the fans something to cheer about on a yearly basis. For the third time in the last nine seasons the Bruins earned a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. It is the hardest tournament in all of American sports. 16 wins over a two month slog through four rounds of playoffs is quite a monumental feat in. For the second time in seven years the Bruins fell just shy of achieving the final goal of that feat. Losing the best of seven game series 4-3, after dropping game 7 to the St. Louis Blues 4-1. It was the first ever Stanley Cup Final Game Seven to be played on Boston’s home ice. It just might be their all-time worst defeat.
The 2018-19 Boston Bruins were a rugged collection of veterans and youngsters, experience and bright eyed optimism, speed and skill, coupled with grit and determination. The season kicked off in China for some exhibition games against the Calgary Flames. Throughout the year they fought through injuries, off-ice personal situations, minor controversies and post-season deficits to have the chance to win the game’s biggest prize on home ice in front of their fans. If you’d asked a player, in October, in China if he would be happy with that situation come mid-June surely the answer would be a resounding yes.
Despite a strong showing in game seven’s opening period, where they outshot the Blues 12-4, they came away trailing 2-0. The game’s first goal was a Ryan O’Reilly tip in on Jay Bouwmeester’s slap-shot, the puck was redirected through goalie Tuukka Rask’s legs. The Bruins responded with pressure of their own but were turned away every time by Jordan Binnington. It was the second goal that might have been the back-breaker. At 19:53 of the period Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo took pass from Jaden Schwartz and backhanded the puck pastRask. The confluence of that play was the result of a Brad Marchand error of timing. Marchand was looking to make a line change, despite there only being a few seconds remaining in the period. He was the last line of defense as the puck was coming towards him, by the time he’d turned and realized the situation Schwartz was able to get positioning on Marchand, thus setting up Pietrangelo.
“I don’t know, they chipped it in,” said Marchand after the game. “I thought that guy was by himself, so I went for a change, and a couple more guys jumped up on the play.”
The puck wasn’t bouncing Boston’s way and the Blues took advantage of the miscue, and it felt deflating. “Well yeah it was tough,” said Rask. “we created a lot of chances and shots and I barely made a save and it was 2-0, so, I really wanted to make one of those saves, didn’t, but we tried to battle back. They’re a tough team to beat when they have the lead.”
“Yeah, you know it happens,” said Bruins center David Krejci about that second goal. “But, we still believed… we always came back no matter what the score was. Just come back.”
The impact that goal had on the Bruins was felt in a lackluster second period. “We knew it was an uphill battle but the game wasn’t over,” said head coach Bruce Cassidy when asked about the team giving up the two late goals. “I don’t think anybody was down after the first period, we just knew the task at hand was going to be a challenge. We had to play a certain way and I guess we didn’t in the second period. I don’t think we played the proper way to generate offense considering the way their goaltender played in the first period. You’re going to have to get some screens and some second chances and I don’t think we did enough of that in the second period to give us some life unfortunately.”
The second period was scoreless. Rask and Binnington weren’t tested much. Rask had a scary moment when he saved a shot that ended up bouncing off the crossbar and almost landed in the goal before being swatted away, but other than that neither team was generating offensively. The Bruins again outshot the Blues 11-6 for the period. The Bruins were impressed by Binnington’s play. “He’s made some big saves all series, different times,” said forward Charlie Coyle of the Blues keeper’s performance in game seven. “I think there was a time period where we just kind of stopped firing pucks, we were trying to make the pass and even spitting out some rebounds and that’s where we got some chances but he played great. He made the saves when he needed and that’s what kept them afloat.”
In the final period, only down 2-0, the Bruins still believed in themselves and each other. “Yeah, just that belief—takes one shot to change the tide of the game,” said Marchand. “Just wanted to keep playing our game. We had a lot of opportunities, especially early, a couple really good looks…,so we just needed one, and it didn’t happen.”
“Well we always see what the score was, but we know what we have in this room,” said Krejci. “We’ve been through a lot this year and like I said we believe no matter what. Score wise, we believed when it was 3-0. with eight minutes left we still believed. Guys wanted it really bad, but you know, it’s just, I guess it just wasn’t our night tonight.”
That and St. Louis had a record of 35-2-2 when leading after the second period. Defense, coupled with the outstanding play by Binnington, was the Blues strength. “They deserved it tonight,” said Coyle. “As hard as that is to say, it’s the way they play, they play hard and they made it tough on us. They’re all similar defense in a way. Tall, lanky, long reach, good sticks, it makes it tough. We knew what to expect going in but they make it tough on you.”
The Pietrangelo goal would hold to be the game winner, but in the third the Blues added a pair of insurance goals to seal the victory. Brayden Schenn at 11:25 and Zach Sanford at 15:22. 4-0 Blues with less than five minutes to play. A great season was winding down, some fans started to depart the building but the Bruins kept attacking trying to claw back in. Matt Grzelcyk was rewarded with his first Stanley Cup Finals goal on a feed from Krejci at 17:50. Small consolation for the 25 year-old defenseman.
As time wound down and Blues fans made their way to the glass, the St. Louis fans and players erupted in jubilation of winning the franchises first cup in their 52 year history. The Bruins for their part stayed poised, congratulated the victors in the time honored handshake line and made their way to the locker room as Lord Stanley’s Cup was presented to Blues captain Pietrangelo.
“Just in disbelief that it didn’t come together,” said Marchand when asked about the season and getting so close. “That’s not how you plan it out. It’s heartbreak. It’s a heartbreaker. It’s tough to describe. You know they just took our dream, our lifetime dream from us, and everything we’ve worked for our entire lives, and it’s 60 minutes away from that. You can’t describe it.”
Despite his stellar run during the post-season, silencing some critics in the process, Rask was all about the team mentality. “You lose as a team and win as a team. It sucks for all of us. That’s all there is.”
“One win away from the Stanley Cup,” said Coyle, a midseason trade deadline acquisition, and a local lad. “Seeing the way the guys play together and interact together and love each other, you really feel that, it’s easy to just come and be apart of that. It’s what it’s about, just the team aspect, it’s how we were all year. I felt very fortunate to come in and be with this group, go through a lot of ups and downs, ending on a down here but I think everyone’s proud of each other.”
The Bruins goalie echoed that feeling of pride. “We played for each other all year, and, very proud.” Proud they should be. The 2018-19 Bruins gave everything they had to force a game seven in the finals. It just wasn’t enough to overcome the Blues and their resurgence.
Coach Cassidy did an excellent job of calling things like he saw them throughout the year. He molded the players he had into the system that he and General Manager Don Sweeney wanted to employ. He had the team in position to win the ultimate prize but in the end they came up short.
“Well there wasn’t much to say,” said the third year coach of his post game message to his team. “There’s nothing that I can really say in this moment I believe, other than I was proud of them and they should walk out of here with their heads up. That’s it. There’s no long speech, there just isn’t. I’ll have an opportunity to catch up with the players in the next little while but right now they don’t want to hear anything from me.”
Nor should they from the fans. It was a magical season that exceeded expectations, but the better team won.